To Medicate or Not

June 19th, 2018

Last Saturday, an informal memorial evening was held for the woman I mentioned in a previous blog who hung herself some weeks before the suicide of Kate Spade. I was asked to participate both as a friend and as a representative clergyperson.

Among the many testimonies that were offered by the woman’s friends in the course of two hours were comments regarding her decision to try to do without the medications she took for her mental issues. Some of her friends felt she should have kept taking them; others applauded her wish to free herself from drugs.

For what it’s worth, my own non-professional opinion is that people shouldn’t feel that it is a weakness to take psychotherapeutic drugs if they are prescribed by a doctor. To me, it’s like taking aspirin for a headache or undergoing chemotherapy to treat an occurrence of cancer.

These medicines are gifts of God, and God wants us to take advantage of them so that we can live happier, more productive lives. —J. Douglas Ousley

Near-Terminal Decline?

June 11th, 2018

In a recent interview, New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat discussed liberalizing trends in the Roman Catholic Church. (A Catholic himself, Douthat has just published a book on Pope Francis.)

Douthat remarked that, “…a big part of the case for liberalization…is historicist; we’re constantly being told that these changes are what the Holy Spirit wants now, what this age demands, what the signs of the times are pointing toward. And so long as that rhetorical argument is being deployed, it seems pretty reasonable to ask, if this is all the will of the Holy Spirit, etc., why an all but fully liberalized body such as the Episcopal Church isn’t showing all the fruits of the Spirit right now and instead appears to be in near-terminal decline.”

Now I don’t agree that our church is in near-terminal decline. But I would agree that it has been declining in membership for decades, even though it has many gifted clergy and laypeople, and it continues to draw numerous adult converts from diverse backgrounds. The church also faces headwinds that are hard to resist, such as a very low birthrate.

That said, is it too much to ask that the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church make evangelism and church-planting priorities in its work and in its budgetary decisions? —J. Douglas Ousley

The Sad End of Kate Spade

June 6th, 2018

While the underlying causes of Kate Spade’s death are at the moment unclear, the tragedy of her death is immensely sad.

The event is not unique: CNN reports a study that concluded that between 1999 and 2014, the death rate from suicide for white women increased by 60%.

As it happens, I was asked just last weekend to participate in a memorial evening for a young woman almost exactly Kate Spade’s age who had hanged herself a couple of weeks ago. In this case, too, the motives are not certain; the woman I knew may have decided to stop taking her anti-depressant medication.

As a Christian, I struggle to made sense of two women in their mid-fifties hanging themselves, one of whom I admired from afar, the other someone I knew since she was a teenager. But I can commend them to a just and loving God, and I can hope and pray that those prone to suicide will find the help they need. —J. Douglas Ousley

Those Daring Victorians

May 31st, 2018

Last night, the New York chapter of the Victorian Society met for their annual meeting in the Church of the Incarnation.

Part of the meeting’s purpose was to give out a number of awards and grants for historic preservation efforts in New York City. As the awards were distributed, the work of many of the service organizations honored was mentioned.

Especially notable were the efforts in the 19th century to establish racial equality and women’s rights. Museum exhibits were cited that recorded the numerous activities of the abolitionists and the suffragettes.

We often forget that the Victorian era was not just a time of conservative sexual mores. It was also a period of intense activism–not, perhaps, unlike our own. —J. Douglas Ousley

Talking the Talk

May 21st, 2018

American Episcopalians could be pleased with the reception given to the sermon by the Most Rev. Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last Saturday.

I have been surprised at how few of the Episcopalian laypeople I have talked to knew of Bishop Curry or were aware that he is the Presiding Bishop of the whole Episcopal Church. Even fewer knew that he preached in the pulpit of the Church of the Incarnation last December 6, at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Church Pension Fund.

To those familiar with the free-wheeling preaching style of African-American clergy, the sermon wasn’t surprising. But in the formal atmosphere of the royal chapel of St. George’s Windsor, Bishop Curry’s energetic oratory came as a bit of a shock. It could not have been more different than the cerebral reflections I heard the previous Saturday from the new Bishop of London, during her installation in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Episcopalians could also be proud of the precise Anglican liturgy, immaculately executed with lovely music. All in all, it was more than an elaborate ceremony; the wedding, even to the skeptic, was clearly a compelling act of worship. —J. Douglas Ousley

In the Olde Country

May 15th, 2018

Yesterday, I returned from a brief trip to London. Among other things, I was there to represent the Diocese of New York at the Installation of the new bishop of our link Diocese of London on May 12.

The Rt. Rev. Susan Mullally was placed on her episcopal throne with pomp and efficiency by notables of the Church of England and the City of London. Contrasting this events with installations of past bishops of New York, I have two comments.

  1. The Church of England still has a significant following as the Established Church. The Lord Mayor of London was present for the service and hosted a reception afterwards. (He even entered and exited by his own door in the north wall of St. Paul’s Cathedral.) The church was packed and seats were available by ticket only. There was a lottery for the limited number available to the city at large. Seating has never been a problem in the Diocese of New York, and it is decades since a major of New York was present at an installation.
  2. Second, Bishop Mullally is the first female in her post, following 132 male Bishops of London. Some conservative Evangelical and Angl0-Catholic parishes apparently declined to berepresented at the service. Whether dissident parties who reject any ordination of women will eventually be reconciled with their new diocesan remains to be seen. —J. Douglas Ousley

Never the Same River

May 8th, 2018

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus pointed out, “You can never step into the same river twice.” A river is always changing from moment to moment.

The same is true of the soul–it’s always changing, always evolving. As a result, you never reach a point in this life where you can say that you have arrived at final stability. As the secular saying goes, “Life happens.”

We have at Incarnation a group called, the Spiritual Development Committee. These people are particularly concerned with the spiritual growth of the members of the parish. Again, the assumption behind the committee is that change will occur, regardless.

But I find this hopeful. We need not fear the future. Rather, we should prepare ourselves for the Holy Spirit to move us forward, to help us make the necessary changes in life into changes for the better. —J. Douglas Ousley

Money and Religion

May 2nd, 2018

Last night, I attended the annual dinner of the Church Club of New York, a social organization run by city Episcopalians.

The guest speaker was the Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Rev. John Hall. Among other things, he mentioned an enormous building project in the upper gallery of the Abbey. It is in process now and will cost over thirty-two million pounds (over forty million dollars).

This is an extreme example of the vast expenses incurred by any ecclesiastical body that has to maintain a historic building. Many such buildings in the UK–like the Abbey and St. Paul’s–have American supporters or “friends” to help underwrite the work.

While Incarnation’s building needs at the moment (about three hundred thousand dollars) are much smaller, our base of support is also smaller. In other words, we need all the friends we can get. —J. Douglas Ousley

An Historic Place

April 24th, 2018

Today, I joined a group of New York historians and history buffs to witness the dedication of a plaque which will mark the first home shared by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt after their marriage. The brownstone is at 125 East 36th Street; Murray Hill residents were active in the effort to obtain the plaque from a city historic preservation group.

The speakers at the ceremony extolled the achievements of both Roosevelts. They particularly highlighted Eleanor and Franklin’s leadership in the areas of justice and human rights.

I was glad to be publicly thanked for attending, since I represented the church where Eleanor was confirmed. Of all the illustrious former members of Incarnation, we can be most proud of the Roosevelts–as one speaker noted, perhaps the two most important Americans of the twentieth century. —J. Douglas Ousley.

Deaths of Despair

April 18th, 2018

I just learned a new category of population statistics: “deaths of despair.” The term refers to deaths caused by an overdose of drugs, suicides, and diabetes, among other things.

The idea is that people have given up on the idea of living a productive life. The despair behind suicides is obvious; drug overdoses are rare among well-adjusted people. Even diabetes is seen as a failure to care for oneself by keeping to a healthy weight.

Placid middle-class Christians may find these problems remote. But the statistics in this case don’t lie: there are lots of people all around us who are doing themselves harm.

The only good thing in all this is that our religion offers ways to counter dark emotions. Faith offers something to live for; hope is an antidote to self-destructiveness; and love brings light to every life. All the more reason to try to do whatever we can to reach out to those in danger of deaths of despair. —J. Douglas Ousley